Smith & Daughters

Melbourne’s veg*n community love Smith & Daughters. They really, really, REALLY love Smith & Daughters. Even since it opened in March of this year, the overwhelming positive, rapturous, orgasmic reviews have been consistently appearing across the food blogosphere ever since. And I got so excited. Because an all vegan restaurant by the folks responsible for the vegan food at Gasometer, at the East Brunswick Club, at Sweetwater Inn, this was something to be properly keen for.

However, I was in the midst of saving for my Canada and America trip, and a quick check of the reviews revealed that Smith & Daughters was on the expensive end of the spectrum, and there was frankly no way I could have justified a proper exploration of the menu at that time. So a lot of months passed by before I managed to slip in on a quiet Saturday morning in the company of Steph to experience the weekend brunch menu.

First of all, because I want this to be the ultimate take away anyone has of Smith & Daughters, the service here is the best I have ever had in Melbourne. THE. BEST. Every person on staff we came in contact with was friendly and helpful without being obtrusive, and are clearly passionate about every aspect of the business. This is such a rare thing to feel as a customer, obvious love for a place radiating off the well-turned out staff, especially in hospo, so it is well worth noting.

The brunch menu is smaller food-wise than the standard menu, but it is a bit cheaper for those of you watching your wallets (although a few items’ price points still made my eyebrows raise in an “oh really?” fashion). The menu is heavily Spanish and Latin American influenced, meaning lots of omelettes and mock chorizo and burritos, although it did mean that due to my aversion to capsicum/peppers a lot of the savoury dishes had to be discounted, but that is the fault of my tastebuds only.

There was no capsicum in the breakfast burrito though! Instead it’s ample insides were filled with fat chunks of tofu, sauteed garlic kale and a spicy mix of black beans and mock chorizo (I couldn’t quite figure out what the chorizo was made out of, as it had been ground up, but I would imagine maybe something mushroom based?), with a mound of guacamole served on the side. There is also the option, for a few extra dollars, to have cashew cheese added to the burrito, which I chose not to have because I try not to have too much nut-based dairy analogues since I feel uncomfortable with the fact they’re not the best ecologically (don’t get me started on the deal with almond milk). This was a mistake, as even with the avocado, the burrito filling was very crumbly, and very dry. All the fixings were well flavoured, but the dry, collapsible texture definitely got to me after a while. You shouldn’t have to add on an extra (especially priced) component to make a dish come together.

Smith & Daughters clearly understand what their runaway customer favourite dish is, so even on the brunch menu you will find the mock tuna and pea croquettas. These seem to have been a feature in every review I’ve read, and people are ecstatically wild for them. You get one fat croquetta, perfectly deep-fried to a crispy orange hue, sitting in a schmear of caper aioli and with a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the top. The inside manages to be simultaneously fluffy and moist, and you can see flecks of pea in among the mock tuna. The flavour didn’t seem overtly fishy to me, which was a bit strange since I’m ordinarily oversensitive to seafood flavours and scents. It was a perfectly fine finger of fried goodness, but I didn’t experience a scene of divine revelation. Do I also think the fact that one croquetta costs $5 is a bit of a liberty? Yes, yes I kinda do.

There is a very extensive juices menu here at brunch, which always perks me up as I love my fruits whizzed up and served with a garnish. I was peering covetously at a JUG of juice that was being sipped through a straw by someone at an adjoining table (a JUG OF JUICE! For ONE person! What a joy), but decided I should be sensible (boo) and just get a glass. Like a fool I can’t remember it’s actual name, but it was one of the more simple concoctions available, consisting of grilled apple, mint and cinnamon all juiced up and topped with a fan of fresh apple slices. This was DYNAMITE. Spicy and crisp and like having a fresh apple pie in a glass, it was both comforting and refreshing. I am very much intrigued by the sound of Smith & Daughters’ cocktail menu; if they are anything like the juices on offer then I think you could have a very delicious alcoholic evening there.

I don’t like to be even mildly contrary in the face of overwhelming praise. I’m actually quite alarmingly populist at heart when it comes to food and want to be able to join in with an experience that has attracted such cheers and love with enthusiastic gusto. I certainly don’t want to downplay what Smith & Daughters are doing in setting up what is in many ways a unique dining option for the veg*n community (and by the looks of things they are winning over plenty of omnivores). I also don’t want to downplay the care and work that goes into creating this kind of vegan cuisine, which require a lot of specialty ingredients and advanced cooking skills. The chefs here obviously aren’t just cooking out of standard vegan cookbooks, this is food that is adventurous and that has clearly been carefully developed over time. It’s just a case where my particular tastes don’t seem to align with those of the kitchen. And that’s okay! Smith & Daughters has plenty of superfans who will be more than willing to regale you with it’s virtues. Next time I may just stick with the drinks menu.

Smith & Daughters

175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9939 3293

www.smithanddaughters.com

Thaiger

I have to interrupt my own traveling foodie reminiscences to tell you all about Thaiger. It is VERY IMPORTANT.

You may remember me visiting Huxtaburger not too long ago and being very disappointed with their vegie burger option. I even went back a couple of weeks after writing that review to give them another go in the fear that I’d been too harsh, but no, it’s still a highly uninspiring tofu slab. But as Cindy mentioned in the comments of that piece, a tofu burger doesn’t necessarily have to be boring and can be done awfully well. Thaiger is a very compelling example of such.

Thaiger, as you may have noticed from the puntastic name, is a Thai-inspired take away burger restaurant. Tucked down the Walk Arcade next to the sushi place that always has the obscenely long queue, it’s a very neat and attractive set-up. There’s 14 different burgers to choose, although only one is vegetarian, so if you like your meats you are in for a fun time (someone go try the pou-nim black burger and come back to tell me all about it because it sounds FASCINATING).

What about this singular veggie burger? Well, it consists of a slab of panfried tofu, crisp around the edges and gelatinous within, topped not only with smoky softened enoki mushrooms but also with a crunchy corn fritter. Keeping it all together is a generous squeeze of sesame soy mayo and a shiny, squishy bun, with some nicely frilled lettuce for good measure. As you would imagine, the combination of smoky enoki, corn fritter, and soft hot tofu was pretty epic in terms of the amount of flavour hurtling about, quickly quashing any suspicion that a tofu burger can’t be delicious. It just all depends on what you team it with.

I also got a cup of sweet potato chips (you can get regular potato chips too), which were hot and as crispy as one can get a sweet potato wedge. I wish I’d been together enough to realise that Thaiger of course had a bunch of sauces that I could have had with my chips, and it shall not be a mistake I make again.

Thaiger is one of those places where it comes across that everything in the business has been devised with great care. From the way the burgers are wrapped and placed in their take-away wrappers and sleeves so that you can eat them in the easiest, least messy way possible, to the design of the space itself, and the care that has clearly gone into creating the menu itself. There are a lot of burger joints across Melbourne now, most peddling the same types of burger fillings and snacks with a slightly depressing homogeneity, so Thaiger feels refreshingly unique. And more importantly than that, it’s properly delicious.

Thaiger

Shop 16, The Walk Arcade, 8 Causeway Lane, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9663 8558

www.thaiger.com.au